Baroness Stedman, Phyllis Adams, politician: born Peterborough, July 14, 1916; died June 8, 1996

BARONESS Stedman, a junior minister in the Callaghan Government, was one of the first peers to leave the Labour Party for the SDP, which she led in the Lords from 1988 to 1991.

Phyllis Adams was born in Peterborough, where her father was an iron moulder. Educated at Peterborough Grammar School, she became a librarian in the town until the war. In 1942, she became a group officer in the National Fire Service, and went on to serve on its benevolent fund and to speak about it in the Lords.

She had married Henry Stedman, a rose grower, in 1941, with whose business she was closely associated. They exhibited regularly at the Chelsea Flower Show.

In 1946, in the first post-war elections, she was elected county councillor for the Soke of Peterborough and spent the next 35 years in local government politics. In 1965, she was elected to Huntingdon and Cambridge County Council, and from 1974 she sat on Cambridgeshire County Council. She was made a life peer in 1974 at the same time as Marcia Williams, Harold Wilson's personal and political secretary.

A Gaitskellite, she was a loyal Labour party worker until, disillusioned by the drift leftwards, she joined the SDP.

In the 1951 general election, she stood for Labour in Hampstead, but had to withdraw due to ill health. Although her own ambitions to become an MP were not to be fulfilled, she worked hard to get others elected, notably in the 1966 election when, as Labour agent, she forced seven recounts in Peterborough for the candidate, Michael Ward. He had lost by three votes.

Once in the Lords, she was rapidly given a job, serving as a Government whip. From 1975 to 1979, she was the front bench spokesman on Transport, the Environment and Trade, proving very efficient. Her reward was a job as Under Secretary for the Environment, but the fall of the Callaghan government meant she only held it for a few months. In Opposition from 1979-81, she was spokesman on local government, the environment, New Towns and transport.

After she joined the SDP, she served as a whip, Chief Whip and finally leader because, in 1988, she refused to go with the other SDP peers, led by Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, to the Social Democrats. She led the 24 SDP peers who also refused to make the transition for three years.

Her husband died in 1989. They had no children.